Kosovo's Rugova Dies

More on the death of Ibrahim Rugova, a leader in the long struggle by ethnic Albanians in Kosovo to escape Serbian dominance. Rugova was 61 and suffered from lung cancer.

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JOHN YDSTIE, host:

We received word this morning that Kosovo president Ibrahim Rugova has died. Mr. Rugova had been suffering from lung cancer; he was 61 years old. Agron Bajremi is the senior editor of Koha Ditore, a daily newspaper in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo. He joins us from there. Thanks for being with us.

Mr. AGRON BAJREMI (Senior Editor, Koha Ditore): Yeah, hi.

YDSTIE: What's happening in Pristina now? Any public reaction to Mr. Rugova's death?

Mr. BAJREMI: Oh, yes. Generally, people are very sad and all the leaders of political parties, the government, the institutions, the opposition, and the international presidents have addressed the people in general to bring the bad news and to try and calm the people to assure them that the processes will continue regardless of this huge loss.

YDSTIE: Remind us about Ibrahim Rugova's role in the efforts of ethnic Albanians to achieve independence, first from Yugoslavia and then from Serbia.

Mr. BAJREMI: Well, I don't think there is any major thing that happened, political thing that happened in the past 15 or more years in Kosovo that hasn't to do something with Mr. Rugova. And in most of the cases, he was the number one person to make things happen. First, he started the - he led the national movement for liberation, which was later on to be called the Democratic League of Kosovo. He was some sort of a father figure, father of a nation for the Kosovans here. And because of his scholar background, because he was a literary critic, his way of dealing with politics was quite peaceful, and he was not keen on confrontations; he was a pacifist. He was a man who wanted peace, not violence. Therefore, I think that most of the people are going to recognize that this loss is going to be a huge one for all of us here.

YDSTIE: What about the U.N.-sponsored independence talks that were to have begun next week? Will they be impacted by his death?

Mr. BAJREMI: Well, we just received the news that they are going to be postponed for at least one week. Mr. Ahtisaari, who is the chief negotiator in these talks which were to be held in Vienna, Austria, just said that due to the death of Mr. Rugova, the talks will be postponed for the fourth week of January. And, of course, this is going to affect the talks and the process itself.

I think that Mr. Rugova was one unique leader who could unify most of the politicians and parties in Kosovo, and he was a synonym for the quest of independence here. It remains to be seen who is going to succeed him if there is going to be one successor. But nevertheless, the talks are going to be much more difficult and harder now without him.

YDSTIE: Agron Bajremi is the senior editor of Koha Ditore, the daily newspaper in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo. Thank you very much.

Mr. BAJREMI: Thank you.

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